July 3, 2013

From the Civil War to Civil Rights

by Cathy Beeler from National Park Service

The Civil War to Civil Rights commemorations officially began in February 2011 with the Lincoln Inaugural Journey that culminated in the arrival of President-elect Abraham Lincoln, portrayed by actor Fritz Klein, in Washington, D.C. by train just as he did a century and a half earlier.

Former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar commented, “The sesquicentennial of the Civil War is a time to commemorate those who fought and died during this pivotal era in American history. At the same time it is an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to the ongoing march for freedom and equality for all people.”

We remember the shots fired at Fort Sumter and the fabric of our nation torn asunder by the institution of slavery. We talk about the struggle for emancipation and at what “cost” from many perspectives. We also recognize that at this particular moment in time, we have the opportunity to commemorate a war in this nation to free people from human bondage and, at the same time, to honor the hard won progress of  civil rights for many of those people declared to be free in the war that occurred a century before.  We must use this opportunity to talk about that time when freedom was not honored and the struggle for civil rights began. We must understand how those thoughts and values continue to prevail, and how we use lessons from the past to guide us in making better choices for our future.

Now we stand on the threshold of the high water mark of those commemorations, and much has been done to continue to bring these stories forward.  As part of our commemorations, the National Park Service has upgraded sixteen interpretive media projects, produced eight new publications, created over 500 real and virtual trading cards and held five signature events with nearly eleven more still being planned. This year we are commemorating the Siege of Vicksburg and the Battle of Gettysburg, two events that will bring thousands of visitors to the parks.

NPS has expanded the use of social media to engage new audiences and provide opportunities for many unable to physically visit, but still want to be part of the events. The March on Washington, in August, will enable us to continue our work within this thematic framework and engage youth by participating in an oral history project. They will learn about “Keeping the Dream Alive,” making informed choices and having their voices heard through non-violent means. Later, in the fall, we will reflect upon Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his immortal words…

”It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.”

Our National Parks and their partners have brought everything they have to the table in a time when resources were tight and expectations were soaring. Through collaboration, they discovered the value and longevity in the partnerships they built. The communities we have built – internally and externally – will sustain our goals well into the future and far beyond our initial expectations. The success of our outreach will be measured by the children who are sitting in pre-school and elementary classrooms today and will lead our bicentennial commemoration in the future. Only then will we know if we have made these stories relevant and created stewards for future generations.

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